Whenever we engage in face to face communication, we’re communicating through three separate, but inextricably bound channels—the visual, the verbal and the vocal. The visual channel includes both the body language of the presenter and any visual aids such as charts, graphs, props and electronic slide shows. The verbal channel represents the language the presenter uses to code the message. The vocal channel consists of voice qualities such as tone, pitch, rate, volume and articulation.
In the most effective cases of communication, these three channels align in such a way that reinforces a single message. But they can also send contradictory messages. For example, a speaker who says he’s excited to be speaking to the group, but delivers his message in a slow monotone while slouching or leaning against the lectern has subverted his own contention. In other words, the vocal and visual channels have undermined the verbal channel’s message. The best way to achieve alignment is to eliminate the most common forms of “noise” in each of these three channels.
Visual noise generated by the presenter most often takes the form of movement that isn’t purposeful. It might include moving in front of your slide show too often, gestures that seem unnatural or nervous weight shifting from foot to foot. Noise from the electronic slide show manifests itself in many ways. Once of the most common types occurs when the choice of font is misaligned with the verbal message. For example, comic serif is a poor choice for serious ideas and courier doesn’t represent a technology theme well. Other types of noise include fonts and charts too small to be easily seen, slides with too much information and poor readability because of a lack of contrast between the foreground and background colors.
Verbal noise includes language that is misunderstood, incomprehensible, or distracting. Relative words such as “a lot, few, many, expensive, soon,” will have different meanings for different listeners. To avoid misunderstanding, it’s better to use specific measurements, time frames and quantities. Jargon, the specialized language of a particular field of study or profession, serves as an economical shortcut to those within its linguistic community, but forms a barrier to those outside it. Esoteric or arcane language with the wrong audience can also prevent understanding. When choosing particular words, your goal should be to “express” rather than “impress.” Vocalized pauses such as “uhm” or “uh” and filler words such as “like,” “you know,” and “now” can quickly become a listener’s focus of attention and detract from your overall message. If there’s any doubt these verbal ticks can damage your message, watch the YouTube videos of Caroline Kennedy, whose interviews as she sought the open New York Senate seat were punctuated by “you know” to the point of distraction.
Vocal noise comes primarily from a lack of variety in the voice. Consistently speaking at the same pitch, rate and volume leads to a monotone delivery that causes the audience to lose interest. Excessive variation, especially excessive volume, appears to be “staged” or inauthentic. The best vocal delivery resembles conversation. Imagine speaking to a friend and use that as your guide. The key is to imagine speaking “with” someone rather than “at” someone.
When you deliver your presentation, you want listeners to hear a vocal message, see a visual message and listen to a verbal message that align with each other. Focus on eliminating the noise that prevents such alignment. When you send the same message through all three channels, you’ll be much more effective in getting your message heard, and acted upon. When you’re heard above the noise, you’ll stand apart from the crowd.
©2009 Peak Communication Performance. Excerpted from Rainmaking Presentations: How To Grow Your Business by Leveraging Your Expertise, available at Barnes & Noble and Amazon.com. Download the first chapter at www.RainMakingPresentations.com. Affluent’s Presentation Expert, Joseph Sommerville, Ph.D., shows executives how to design, develop and deliver effective presentations. When you book him to show your organization how to create more professional presentations, you’ll find out why better communication means more business. Contact him at Sommerville@RainMakingPresentations.com